Monday, August 20, 2012

World Champion Bleeder.

If Bono raises money in the middle of the woods and no one hears it, is he still a good person?

A cynical school of thought holds that true altruism doesn't exist; it's really selfishness in disguise. According to this theory, Albert Schweitzer/Brangelina types are either promoting themselves, acting out of guilt, or simply smuggling in good drugs, stuffing their newly adopted's anus with pure-grade heroin or Retin-A, whichever is in greater need. By this same token, surely one of the biggest ego blows is to have one's philanthropic intentions coldly rebuffed; a tacit, "Get lost" as our eager, helping hand is pushed away.
Sciency-type photo
Electron micrograph of either: a) blood cells and a platelet,
b) soft chewy candy and lint.

The Red Cross held a local blood drive last week; they wouldn't accept a donation from me. Spain, the fair country I resided in for 10 years, has a high-risk designation due to Mad Cow cases reported several years ago. The nurse filling out my questionnaire seemed chagrined; she apologized profusely, afraid I would be insulted by the rejection. I told her not to worry; my platelets, plasma and blood cells were perfectly content staying put where they were. I did swipe a container of orange juice and some cookies before leaving, so perhaps I was a tad miffed...

Losing blood on a voluntary basis would've been a new experience, having spilled more than a few pints throughout my accident-prone life. Most people chart the trajectory of their life through major milestones and achievements. "Oh yes, that was the year I got my doctorate" or "I remember now--I bought my first Ferrari that Spring." My vague recollections coagulate along the lines of when I split my head open.

My first major blood-letting was at the age of six. I had a huge toy chest in my room, sporting a varied collection of cars, action figures, army men, guns and pistols, plastic musical instruments, stuffed animals and blocks. There were also hundreds of random Lincoln Logs, Legos, puzzle pieces and bits of models. The boxes for these particular diversions had been lost, broken or discarded long ago, with the remaining bits cast into the all-encompassing chest. There was no caste system in my world of toys; everything was thrown in haphazardly, often from different corners of my room, with a gleeful recklessness. Being a somewhat cavernous container, the easiest way to access any particular piece was to overturn the entire box and spread all the toys on the floor. My mother never understood this, operating under the faulty premise that I was making a mess. Her simple-minded thinking further mandated that all toys should be picked up afterwards. For me, simple laws of inertia and thermodynamics dictated that it was more efficient to leave everything where it was, yielding ready access again the following day.

blood letterThe best toys I owned were Tonka trucks, indestructible metal vehicles that could be sat on or rammed into furniture with great effect, leaving deep gouges in armoires and night tables. Capricious safety laws regarding sharp edges or toxic toys were nonexistent at the time. The resident bunk bed was really my favorite toy. A veritable Jungle Jim of possibilities, I was blessed with a baby brother who's face turned crimson red when hung upside down by the ankles. The structure came with an obligatory ladder and top retaining bar; I had ditched those long ago. I alternately climbed up or leapt down from the higher berth without a second thought. The bedroom also contained two cast iron radiators large enough to heat a prison cafeteria; winter nights invariably roused me in a sweat, totally dehydrated.  Needing a drink of water late one night, I leapt off the top bunk directly onto the waiting plow blade of a Tonka bulldozer, opening an elongated, scalpel-like incision on my insole. Fortunately for me, screaming was one of my best skills, even managing to wake my father, no easy task. The event proved to be the first of many trips to the emergency room.

My next major escapade occurred a few years later, at our summer cottage in Lake Carmel. My older sister had invited a few friends over one evening to listen to a new album: Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Once I learned the record contained only three songs, I lost interest. As far as my young ears were concerned, that group was going nowhere. More interesting to me was Stevie Bickerson's bicycle; I asked if I could go for a spin. He took a pull on his Salem cigarette, shrugged and told me to help myself, adding laconically, "Be careful, the brakes ain't so good." Momentarily considering his statement, "not so good" indicated a corollary of not so bad, either; some modicum of stopping power could be safely relied on. Considering that we lived near the top of one of the longest, steepest hills in town, further cogitation on his oblique warning was probably warranted. Instead I jumped aboard and raced straight down the hill, peddling furiously for more speed. Into the valley of death rode the Schwinn Hundred.

I was enjoying myself immensely, until the first intersection approached. I pulled the calipers intently, with no palpable result whatsoever. Nothing, zero. Luckily, there were no cars; I flew straight through the intersection without incident. Looking ahead, I began to panic. There were three more intersections to cross before arriving at Shore Drive, a heavily trafficked, scenic road encircling the lake.

I never even got close. An uneven rise in the landscape combined with washed-away asphalt to form a huge dip, looming directly in front of me. The town's transportation department couldn't afford expensive heavy machinery; my Tonka steamroller probably weighed as much as theirs did. As a result, road paving was a somewhat casual affair, patching a bit here and there or repaving only the top inch or two of tarmac. Whatever tar managed to stick to the earth below was considered fortuitous; whatever washed away was just fine and dandy as well.

rural utopia
Putnam Hospital: many a fine summer day spent,
having my bandages changed.
Beyond the wash out was an abrupt bump, where the asphalt had tenaciously clung to an underlying boulder. I managed to navigate the dip without falling, then struck the jutting abutment at full force. I flew over the handlebars several yards before slamming into the pavement, landing on my right elbow. Having increased my diaphramic capacity several-fold since the age of six, I let loose a piercing scream, easily exceeding the town's central fire alarm by several decibels. I had landed in front of one of the few winterized homes on our road, with a trimmed lawn and accompanying gnome decorations. Sprawled on the pavement, I noticed one had a scowl, holding a Keep Off the Grass sign in his little arms. A real, live elfin-like man burst out of a screen door beyond, scooped me in his arms and started running uphill, the only logical direction I could've come from. He was met halfway by my mother, sister and all her friends. My mom examined the wound closely, blocking it with her body so I couldn't see anything. Looking into the faces of my sister's friends told me all I needed to know; most of them turned away in revulsion.

My mom took me home and dutifully attempted to clean and dress my injury, tolerating my screams the entire time. She dressed the wound with gauze and bandages, and sent me to bed. The next morning we discovered I had bled through the covers, underlying sheets, bedliner and possibly the entire mattress, greasing the squeaky interior springs. She took me to the hospital immediately. With my elbow resembling runny mayonnaise, I couldn't even brag about stitches; there was no skin left to sew up. Due to the danger of infection, they wrapped my arm in soft bandages. My mom drove me to the hospital every three days to have them changed. There was no cool plaster cast that people could sign, and no more swimming in the lake, either. It was the worst summer I ever had.

I later learned that injury could engender felicitous pity from nubile females. At the age of 17, my friend David landed a job cutting grass and landscaping for a local allergist, who owned a small farm. Because God Is Great, the residence yielded six uninhibited teenaged daughters from two different marriages, along with a shiny new swimming pool. Three sisters hailed from England, and showed no compunction about sunbathing topless. Needless to say, I made my acquaintances immediately, and was soon visiting on a daily basis. The pool's stiff diving board proved to be a good diversion from other stiff things, resulting from staring at pert young boobies. By August I could do a swan dive, jackknife, cutaway, front flip, back flip, and a one and a half. What none of us could master was the elusive gainer, comprised of a hurdle forward and back flip. An especially bodacious cousin named Caroline was visiting from Great Britain that week; she decided to remove her top as I was attempting the tricky maneuver. Understandably distracted, I slipped on the edge of the board and bashed my shin on the edge of the board, falling into the water. The girls jumped from their recliners, waited for me to surface, and asked if I was okay. My friend Tom examined the diving board, extracting a piece of leg meat by the hairs. "I don't think so," was his expert analysis. That one put me on crutches for a week.

Crap Car
A Tempest in only slightly worse condition than mine.
The biggest scar I have is from a 1968 Pontiac Tempest,  inherited from my Uncle Jerry.

Uncle Jerry was my favorite relative, ever since I could remember. On holidays, he'd sit me on his knee and extract a shiny quarter from his pocket; better than my grandfather, who was only good for a nickel or dime. He always ate too much turkey for dinner, with even more spumoni for dessert. Shortly after, he'd  fall sound asleep on our couch.  Snoring loudly, his head would tilt back slowly until the air was cut from his windpipe, involuntarily jerking his head forward. The cycle would then repeat, over and over. It was fascinating to watch, like one of those dipping bird toys that sips water out of a beaker.

He chain-smoked and owned a succession of vomiting dogs; I never did get the smell out of the carpeting. Eventually contracting emphysema, he suffered a series of strokes, lost his eyesight and finally, his driver's license. Before reaching total blindness and bequeathing me his beloved Pontiac, he successfully crashed into a host of stationary objects, systematically dinging and denting every part of the exterior. One of the larger dents was over the driver's door hinge; it chafed loudly against the quarter panel upon opening, emitting a pterodactyl-like krawwk. A leaking rust spot over the back trunk ruined anything stored inside. The transmission pan leaked as well; God knows what living or inert object he had run over to puncture it. Other than those minor faults, the 350 engine ran like a champ; I was happy to have the wheels.

There was a magnetic Virgin Mary affixed to the dashboard, with little red carnations around it. My first day driving the car, David tossed the statue out the window. Watching the figurine skip along the pavement in the rearview mirror, I knew revenge would be hers one day.

sexy I'm not
To think, I could've
been a ballet dancer...
I woke one typical July morning to move the car, in compliance with Manhattan parking regulations. A car had double-parked too close for me to unloose the pterodactyl. Walking around to the other side, my leg brushed against a mangled steel bumper, instantly carving a huge slit down my leg. The wound was so long and deep that it caused the surrounding skin to sag and pull away, partially exposing my calf muscle. After a few fascinating seconds of watching my sock and shoe fill with blood, I drove to the hospital four blocks away.

Before entering Emergencies, I scooped some fresh blood from my shoe, smearing it onto my pants and shirt. Visible gore is a sure-fire way to avoid the waiting room. The admitting nurse took one look and led me into triage.

I tend to get chatty and make dumb jokes when nervous. Trying to remain casual about seeing my own dark muscle tissue, I wouldn't shut up, blathering on and on about backless smocks and cold stethoscopes pressed against tender skin. The intern on duty eyed my leg with a mixture of ennui and distaste, making no reply. Working mornings in the ghetto was definitely not his thing.

"Were you in a knife fight?" he asked coldly. He was holding a clipboard, with a ninety-part form to fill out. No wonder he was in a pissy mood.

I stared back at him in surprise. One part of me took it as a compliment; the idea that I looked tough enough to be mixing it up with a stiletto in some high-stakes, gangland turf battle. It also implied I was white trash, which although true, didn't sit well with me.

"It's eight o'clock in the morning. I prefer knife fighting after a cappuccino and croissant."
He was nonplussed by my bon mot. "Cause of injury?"
"I scraped it against my car's back bumper."
"No, really."

I proceeded to show him a few sundry scars: seven stitches in my thumb, after hacking into it with a meat cleaver. 18 stitches in my left hand, after chainsawing it with my right; 6 stitches on the ball of my foot, courtesy of broken glass at Rockaway Beach;  12 stitches on my other leg from a minibike mishap; 8 stitches from--

"I get it now," he said, interrupting me. "I believe you. You're a klutz."

That's right, baby. I wasn't any gangbanger, sliced up by Crips or Bloods or Banditos or whatever. I had earned my scars the hard way, by being an absent-minded, accident-prone spaz. It was just as well the Red Cross didn't taken my blood; I probably would've knocked the IV over and made a mess, unleashing Mad Cow antibodies into the atmosphere, akin to the last scene of Twelve Monkeys.

Better still, I could conduct my own sociological experiment. Me and Bono could walk into the middle of the woods and have a shin-kicking contest, just to see what happens. I may not be an altruist, but I know I can scream louder than him.


  1. Ha! Good comeback to the ER guy. Damn that sounds like a nasty ding you experienced. I'd pay to see you shin kick Bono btw. He has it coming, the little sod. ;)

    1. Or at least knock off those rose-colored glasses he always wears...


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